Tax Day is officially here.
If you still haven’t filed, then you’re among the minority. As of the end of last week, the IRS had received nearly 100 million tax returns — roughly three-quarters of the returns it expects to get this tax season.
For procrastinators who are owed a refund, it won’t hurt to file late. Penalties are only incurred if you owe tax. But it’s still a good idea to file for an extension, just in case you end up being wrong and actually owe money.
So far this tax season, about 12 million taxpayers have requested extensions.
Related: Don’t miss these Tax Day deals
The average refund is $2,792, up 1% from last year, and people are using them for everything from hosting a crawfish boil to paying off student loans.
But because your refund may be one of the biggest checks you may receive all year, be careful to protect your identity. Scammers are also on the prowl during tax season, and the IRS has issued an alert about a new phone scam where IRS impersonators are calling taxpayers and asking for personal information or demanding that they pay back taxes.
The IRS has also warned taxpayers to watch out for fake charities, emails from IRS impersonators and shady tax preparers who do things like claim bogus children or convince you to hide income offshore.
Related: 10 tax audit red flags
The recently discovered Heartbleed bug, a security flaw that exposes Internet users’ passwords, has also raised questions about whether it’s safe to file online, though the IRS says taxpayers should ignore the bug and still file their taxes.
If you want to be extra safe, you can file the old-fashioned way — by snail mail. Although the vast majority of filers prefer to file online, with nearly 90% of all returns submitted electronically this year.
Another thing to watch out for: audit red flags. While the chance of being audited is less than 1% on average, certain actions are more likely to spark scrutiny from the IRS. Common triggers include overstating your charitable donations, being a millionaire, and claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit — a commonly abused credit.
Related: 13 crazy tax deductions
Claiming strange deductions will also raise eyebrows. Some of the weird write-offs that have failed over the years include airfare for a pet, a birthday party, and pantyhose. But others are perfectly acceptable, even though they may sound bizarre. Hermit crab food, scuba trips and Viagra for a woman were all given the green light by the IRS.
You can even claim a boyfriend or girlfriend as a tax break, but your significant other will have to earn less than $3,900, live with you year-round and you must pay for more than half of their expenses.
Once you’ve filed, relax and celebrate with any one of dozens of Tax Day deals, including free cookies, curly fries, massages and paper shredding.
Millions of taxpayers have already received big refund checks, as the 2014 tax filing season seems to be humming along without a hitch. IRS issuing many refund checks already.
- The Internal Revenue Service announced today that it issued $64.5 billion in refunds to 19.5 million taxpayers as of Feb. 7, a total dollar amount that was up 24% from the same time last year. The average refund check issued this year, $3,317, is also 4.6% larger than last year.
It’s not too surprising that this filing season is running more smoothly than last year, when the IRS lagged the previous year’s pace for issuing refunds throughout most of the filing season. The agency had to put off accepting certain tax forms until as late as March because it was updating its systems following the tax-code revamps caused by the fiscal-cliff legislation.
But taxpayers are also submitting their returns more quickly. The IRS received more than 27 million returns as of Feb. 7, up 2.5% from the same time in 2013. Nearly 96% of those were filed electronically. Samuel Hale, 21, a college student near Fort Worth, Texas, says his refund was deposited into his checking account Friday morning, a week after he filed his return electronically using online software. “I was very surprised,” says Hale, who couldn’t file his return until April last year because of a missing W-2 form.
In an interesting shift, the data shows more taxpayers are doing their own returns so far this tax season. Roughly half of the returns submitted, or 13.3 million, were self prepared, up 14.7% from last year. Typically, about 60% of returns are handled by a tax pro, according to IRS data.
Of course, not all taxpayers have been able to file their returns yet. Some people are still waiting on paperwork from their brokers, employers or colleges that they need to report all income and claim certain tax breaks. And some people aren’t eager to file their returns. Taxpayers who need to cut a check to the IRS generally wait until closer to April 15 to file.
Taxpayers can track their refunds using the “Where’s My Refund?” tool starting 24 hours after filing electronically, or four weeks after mailing in a return. About 90% of refunds are issued within 21 days, though some may be delayed if there is an issue with the return.
Discuss this and more on the Income Tax Forums.